Police: Syracuse still a safe city

Last week, The Eagle reported on an effort to establish a comprehensive assessment of gangs in Syracuse. This week we bring you a conversation with Syracuse Police Sgt. Thomas Connellan.

It's tough to hear Syracuse police Sgt. Thomas Connellan say that Syracuse doesn't experience a lot of innocent victim crime, just weeks after 20-month-old Rashaad Walker Jr. and 19-year-old Kihary Blue were shot to death in separate, but connected, incidents.

A cycle of retaliatory gang violence in the last few months has shaken the Syracuse community and once again raised concerns about youth violence, the safety of residents and the future of the city, with Rashaad and Blue's deaths raising red flags about whether violence once contained to gang members has spilled over into the rest of the community.

But Connellan, who leads the Syracuse police Gang Violence Task Force, says Syracuse remains a secure place.

Even in these two cases, the connections to gangs became clear, and have been blamed for both deaths -- baby Rashaad's father, Rashaad Walker Sr. is a member of the 110 gang; Blue was riding in a vehicle with several members of the Bricktown gang when he was shot.

"We're not looking for people to panic," Connellan said. "Syracuse is a safe city, we don't have a lot of random violent crime. A lot of people involved are people that are involved in gang activity."

Does that mean gang activity is on the rise?

Not necessarily. In a study released in 2005, the Onondaga County Sheriff's Department reported 28 known gangs in the city of Syracuse.

Connellan said despite the seeming increase in gang activity in the last few weeks that number is probably still accurate five years later, though he would not give an exact figure for existing gangs in 2010.

Because of the ongoing nature of gang investigations, Connellan said simply, "we have information on a lot of different gangs."

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